Sunday, June 22, 2008

[Michelangelo Antonioni Retrospective] I Vinti (The Vanquished) (1953)

We Will Prevail

As introduced by Lorenzo Codelli, The Vanquished consists of 3 short stories taking place one each in Italy, France and England, which while not a successful commercial film of the time, it garnered strong reviews, cementing Michelangelo Antonioni as a director with a critical audience and not considered a commercial director. And I agreed that all the characters here have rather interesting backgrounds and stories, and the England segment has Blowup written all over it, serving as a precursor to one of Antonioni's more famous works.

The movie begins quite documentary like, with a prologue touching on violence and the wayward youths of the post-WWII generation. Like outcasts who challenge conventional societal norms, the 3 stories with youth characters in pro/antagonist roles puts a fictional spin to the numerous articles and newsreels that set the tone of the movie.

The first segment is set in France, and I felt was the strongest of the lot. With a myriad of characters, it tells of six friends embarking on a trip sans their parents' concerns, but as they set up their excursion, you can't help but feel that something's amiss, and character motivations are not quite what they seem. For example, why are two boys packing a pistol to bring along? And what's with the manipulative Simone (Etchika Choureau) up to, dangling a carrot in front of different boys, being probably one of the masterminds, and chief executioner of some hideous plan? How about the braggart Pierre, who flaunts his wealth around by lighting cigarettes with money bills, and boasting of a model girlfriend, but in fact has to borrow 100 francs? It's classic bluff against bluff with plenty of jealous and envious emotions thrown in for a good mix, together with survivor styled alliances being formed, that you just aren't too sure who's in cahoots with whom. It's a perfect short which builds on your anticipation, with a tinge of mystery and foretelling of a gruesome, inevitable crime to be committed, and the ending being the cherry on top.

The Italian segment was unfortunately the blandest of the lot. It highlights how most families and parents especially being clueless to their offspring's disillusionment and life of demeanours. Here, the parents of Claudio (Franco Interlenghi) have absolutely no idea that their son is running a smuggling racket, and knows neither his friends, or his girlfriend, except for a photograph in his room. We then follow Claudio throughout the short, watching him seek out his girl Marina (Anna-Maria Ferrero), who's obviously from a well to do family, and uses the excuse of living the life of crime to build up capital so that he can elope with her to a place they can call their own. Not too interesting, though it did make me dig deep and wonder about the many crimes committed out of passion or using love as a crutch.

I'm not sure but I felt the England segment had a wry humour filled thread with a faceless receptionist at The Daily Witness. Just when I thought I had heard the last from this person, it gets popped up again and I can't help but to chuckle. So far the movies in the retrospective have been rather grim and serious, but here's a sliver of wit that I didn't see coming, if expected at all, and so however short it was, I thought it opened one big refreshing window.

I can't make out much of the tennis game here which lasted no longer than a few seconds, but the England segment draped itself with, as mentioned earlier, plenty of elements which would later be referenced, used and explored further in Blowup. While Blowup didn't feature the crime in progress, this short however provided some probable clues, and did the conventional through an enactment, a luxury which audiences in Blowup, or even Story of a Love Affair, never got to see, and can only imagine if and how it happened. Ken Whatton (Patrick Barr), a journalist of The Daily Witness doesn't provide any interesting insights in the movie but serves his function as a proxy for the more interesting Aubrey Hallan (Peter Reynolds) from Saffron who discovers a dead body, and calls him up to provide him the front page scoop material. The Aubrey character runs along the theme on exploring delusional youths, as he's a fame seeker who doesn't think twice in cutting corners to the path of glory and money, putting a lot of pride in himself in being able to analyze and make money from dog races.

However, he's quite a tragic character in living his dream and not giving a hoot about being pragmatic, and holds onto his poetry to overcome his unrequited love for Sally. And in fact, most of the characters in all the shorts have dreams, and it is their inability to fulfill their dreams with concrete workable plans in a down to earth, hard/smart working manner, and in their wanting to make a name for themselves overnight, that they resort to unorthodox, risky behaviour with little responsibility or perhaps even the awareness of consequences in their actions.

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